Notre Dame is back in action this weekend with an unsightly 1-2 record following another defensive meltdown last weekend. The Irish enter the contest unranked after sitting at #10 just three weeks ago. That feels like an eternity ago. The Irish will look to get back on track against equally unimpressive Duke – also owners of a 1-2 record. How will the Irish fare this week?
Let’s (attempt) to find out.
How’d I Do Last Week?
Hmmmm, not good. I was concerned with the tick plays from Michigan State and they did pull one over on Notre Dame with their swinging gate two point conversion (why didn’t that ever work for Willingham?) but other than that Dantonio left his bag of tricks at home. Instead, Michigan State just lined up and ran it right at Notre Dame.
I expected a lot more out of the Notre Dame defense. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me for three straight years BVG. Needless to say from here on out I’ll be skeptical until the Irish string together multiple strong defensive performances against legit offenses.
As for my prediction? At least I wasn’t too far off on Notre Dame’s point total.
What Has Me Concerned this Week
- Every aspect of the Notre Dame defense. There isn’t a level of the defense or an aspect of it that is not concerning right now. Tackling is a nightmare. Players are out of position. Notre Dame is one of just two programs in the entire country to not have a sack. Instead of improving in year three under Brian VanGorder it’s approaching dumpster fire status. They can still get back on track but not much we’ve seen has shown that improvement is imminent.
- Notre Dame pressing. This team knows what its expectations were and knows that the playoffs are out the window just three games into the season. They also know they got knocked around for most of the MSU game. Trying too hard and pressing could lead to the kind of mistakes that let Duke hang around this weekend.
- The pass rush. Did I mentioned Notre Dame still doesn’t have a sack this season? That’s absurd. Duke is one of the worst teams in the country at protecting the quarterback. There is no excuse for the Irish to have a goose egg in the sack column after this week. NONE.
- Another slow start. Notre Dame had 7 points at half time last week. They had 0 points in the first quarter against Nevada two weeks ago. The Irish were able to score early against Texas and the 7 points they scored against the Spartans in the first half came early but they have been sluggish out of the gates. Notre Dame can’t let Duke hang around this weekend by starting slow again.
- Duke winning on the sidelines. Charlie Strong out-coached Brian Kelly week 1. Mark Dantonio out-coached Brian Kelly in week 3 David Cutcliffe is a good coach capable of doing the same.
What Doesn’t Have Me Concerned this Week
- Deshone Kizer. Kid is a baller. He wasn’t perfect last weekend but he damn near put the entire team on his back and brought them all the way back. He’s got a lot of room for improvement – mainly his pocket awareness and not taking as many sacks – but he is the best quarterback to come through Notre Dame in a while.
- A Michigan State hangover. Sometimes a big loss can get ya twice – the week it happens and the week after when the lingering effects impact you. I don’t think that will happen here this week
- Me jinxing the team. I’ve gone to two games this year. Notre Dame has lost both of those games. I don’t have plans to attend any more games in person this year so we should be all set.
- Duke’s defense. The Blue Devils defense isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. Notre Dame will put up a lot of points again this weekend.
Players to Watch
- Cole Luke – Luke picked the worst time to have the worst game of his Notre Dame career last weekend. Look for the senior to bounce back this week. He’s a much better player than the one we saw last weekend.
- Tevon Coney – Coney is getting the start at WILL but Greer Martini will get more reps and unless there is some improvement, Coney’s starting job could be on the line this weekend.
- Daelin Hayes – The kid might be the only chance of a pass rusher Notre Dame has this season. He played well against a tough Michigan State team. He needs to see more reps this week against a much weaker opponent.
- Chase Claypool – The Canadian frosh made one nice catch and nearly made a game altering ridiculous catch at the end of the first half. Claypool is still really raw but his pure talent is undeniable. He should be more involved in the passing game this weekend – perhaps out of a flex tight end position similar to what Alize Jones was expected to be this year.
- Jerry Tillery – Played his best game hands down last weekend. Notre Dame needs some – anyone – to step up on defense, maybe Tillery is that guy. He’s only a sophomore but he has future captain written all over him.
- Jarron Jones – It appears it’s taking Jones much longer to return to form following his injuries. I predicted 15 TFL for the big man in the summer. Through three games Jones has failed to register even one.
- Jay Hayes – I said in August when Kelly said Hayes’s high ankle sprain would be a couple week injury that those injuries always linger for big men. Three games into the season we’ve barely seen the gregarious junior.
- CJ Sanders – Find more ways to get this kid the ball. He’s a gamebreaker. Yes, he fumbled against Michigan State; but he still needs to get the ball in his hands often.
Notre Dame is going to score points this weekend. Even as the defense has struggled, the offense has largely played well albeit with much room for improvement. We’ll see the Irish ground game get going again this weekend against a Duke defense that has been susceptible to the run. Something tells me though that Brian Kelly and Notre Dame are going to try to take some frustrations out on Duke and come out firing this week.
It would be prudent to work on the running game, but with morale likely low and the fan base getting impatient, Notre Dame needs a big win this weekend even if it comes against a team like Duke. I say let Kizer do his thing and air it out early to build up a lead and put the secondary in a position where they know what’s coming and can just play football.
For all of Brian Kelly’s support of VanGorder and his statements about getting more involved but not too involved on the defensive side of the ball, I still think we’ll see Kelly’s fingerprints on the defensive side of the ball and hopefully a simplified approach. This defense isn’t getting fixed overnight but sound tackling and a lack of big plays would be a good start.
This game could be very similar to the Pitt or Georgia Tech games from last year – games Notre Dame built big leads in and then let up a few late scores to make things look closer than they are. For now though, I’ll put my faith in the Irish offense and hope that the defense can keep Duke to just under the same point total (27) they combined to score against powerhouses Northwestern and Wake Forest.
Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Duke 24
Season Predictions v. Actual Outcomes
|1||@ Texas||W, 27-23||L, 47-50 OT||One defensive stop in the 4th could have saved the prediction.|
|2||Nevada||W, 52-21||W, 39-10||Thought there'd be more scoring, but margin of victory wasn't far off.|
|3||Michigan State||W, 31-21||L, 28-36||Completely overestimated the defense's ability to slow the run game|
|4||Duke||W, 42-24||L, 35-38||I got nothing on this one.|
|5||@ Syracuse||W, 47-38||W, 50-33||Irish show some signs of life and for once an opponent doesn't score more than I predicted.|
|6||@ NC State||W, 42-35|